If you think Mark Duplass is just the actor who played Pete on The League, think again. He’s also a highly successful writer, director and producer. As one-half of the Duplass Brothers, he has co-written and co-directed indie hits like Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home and produced a boatload of films and TV shows, including The Overnight, The Skeleton Twins, Animals and Togetherness.
As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Duplass also started mentoring up-and-coming filmmakers through the AXE Collective, a program dedicated to elevating aspiring creators by giving them resources to showcase their skills. We caught up with Duplass recently to talk about the AXE Collective, his forthcoming “secret” film Blue Jay, yacht parties, murder and filming nude scenes. (Note: If you’d prefer to digest this interview in audio form, go here.)
“At Cannes, Paul Allen will show up with his yacht, and if you’re lucky you get invited to one of his yacht parties. In my opinion, any bar that travels has kind of got the tops.”
Your film Blue Jay is set to make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. In terms of fun film festivals for guys to check out, where does the Toronto festival rank?
That’s a really tough question. They’re all very different. What I would say is, there’s something exciting about the Toronto film festival in particular. They have a section called the Vanguard section that’s really all about renegade, young and emerging voices. I’ve premiered movies at Toronto in the past like Your Sister’s Sister and Adult Beginners, a movie that I produced for my buddy Nick Kroll who I was on The League with for years. It’s just been a great launching pad for us over the years, and it really is one of the top five film festivals in the world for sure.
So what film festival should guys check out first, Toronto or Sundance or something else?
You asking me that question is equivalent to asking a polygamous man which one of his wives he likes the most. I’m really not in a position to do that without taking a beating from anyone else. “I love all my film festivals equally” is my political answer there.
But I would say, one thing Toronto does very, very well is offer tiny little films that are discoveries—say, in the Vanguard program. It offers really great horror films. Their Midnight Madness section is known as one of the premiere horror sections. And then it offers huge premieres. If you’re not a big indie fan, you can go see premieres of big movies. Not every film festival programs itself to offer that much of a variety of stuff. So if you want to get a smattering of things, Toronto is a really good bet.
Which film festival has the best bars?
You know what, Cannes is really important for bars because most of the drinking happens on yachts. Like Paul Allen will show up with his yacht, and if you’re lucky you get invited to one of these yacht parties. So that bar moves. So in my opinion, any bar that travels has kind of got the tops.
Well, one of the reasons you’re joining us is because you’ve partnered with the AXE Collective. Here’s how I would describe it: When you were growing up, you had a brother who could help you make your films, and now you’re sort of a brother and a mentor to these filmmakers. Is that about right?
No, you’re wrong but we’re gonna fix it. It’s gonna be great. So look, yes, I did have a brother growing up, I still have one of those in fact, but the truth is that Jay and I were both lost as artists. While he was my older brother, he didn’t know what he was doing. So we never had mentors. We spent like 10 years banging our heads against the wall trying to make a decent piece of art and failing at it miserably, and while it toughened us up, it almost emotionally destroyed us, so I think, if anything, the reason I’ve joined up with the AXE Collective and this mentoring program is that I didn’t have a mentor and I have survivor’s guilt.
I feel like I want to save some people some of the heartache that I went through if I can, and so we’ve been working with these three filmmakers and kind of not only helping them hone in on their own short films, but more importantly getting the next phase of their career ready because it’s one thing to bring your short film to Toronto and show it, which is going to be exciting, but the next question is, how do you make a living out of this? How do you sustain this? And that’s kind of where we come in.
So working with these filmmakers, what do you think is the most important thing that you try to get across to them?
It’s tough. I hit a couple things pretty hard. One is just focusing on autonomy, not waiting around for someone to give you money. We live in an age where the technology is cheap and you can go make your movie for a few hundred bucks and they can do really well. I made a movie called Creep with my friend Patrick with pennies basically, and it’s done really great through Netflix and stuff like that.
And the other thing I try to hit really hard is that a lot of young filmmakers get obsessed with how to distribute their films and how to get it out there. And what I keep telling them is that you don’t have to worry about that if you make a great film. Your only job is to make the most inspired and interesting film. So part of the reason why I was interested in working with the AXE Collective is not only are they part of a really established brand that can support a collective like this, but they’re all about, look, let’s support the individual voice. It’s not about me trying to tell them how to make their movie. It’s about me saying, yes, this is your voice, this is what you’re good at, now let’s figure out how to take that thing, that sort of spark, that little match that they have and parlay it into a bigger career.
“We made a movie last year called ‘Tangerine’ that was shot on an iPhone that just ended up blowing up because it touched a nerve. And that’s exciting to me because that means anybody with this technology can go out and make a movie for $500 that could end up breaking out and becoming the biggest thing that year because audiences’ bullshit detectors are up.”
So what’s Blue Jay about?
Blue Jay is a secret film that we kind of snuck off and made. I became friends with Sarah Paulson because she is best friends with Amanda Peet, who was in my HBO show, Togetherness. And we wanted to make a film that played a little bit against the pod of independent film, which has gotten a little bit noisier and a little bit louder in terms of content and trying to make movies that can stick out because of their supreme originality. I love a lot of those movies, but I wanted to make a movie that was specifically quiet and it’s really about these two high school sweethearts who haven’t seen each other in a long time, who accidentally meet up in their hometown and kind of start to realize they’re not who they thought they were gonna be. And it deals with realizing who you are versus who you hope to be in life and a lot of that melancholy and nostalgia that’s involved with running into your ex and wondering what might have been.
You mentioned your show Togetherness. I saw in one episode of that you’re pretty much naked, and I wondered if that was a difficult thing for you to do. I gotta say, I was impressed and I applaud your courage. Was that difficult for you, or was it fun?
No, it’s not. I think if you’re like a really attractive person or if you’re like a really buff person where you might assume that you’re being ogled sexually, it might be. But mine was more for comedic and reality purposes, so it’s not that much of a difference for me honestly.
Do you think there should be more male nudity on premium cable or there’s just the right amount?
You know, I don’t really think about it as like this much or that much. To me it’s all about if you get it right in the context of what you’re doing. I’m cool to watch a couple of dongs here and there. I got no problem with it, but it’s all gotta be appropriate.
Blue Jay is one of four films you’re doing with Netflix. Where is the industry going? What is movie-watching gonna be like in 10 years?
Look, I feel like everything is being equalized. And I feel like you can’t buy success in a movie anymore. You can’t spend 50 million dollars marketing and guarantee an audience will come out.
We made a movie last year called Tangerine that was shot on an iPhone that just ended up blowing up because it touched a nerve. And the reason it did was because it had a voice, and it had uniqueness, and it had magic. And that’s exciting to me because that means anybody with this technology can go out and make a movie for $500 that could end up breaking out and becoming the biggest thing that year because audiences’ bullshit detectors are up.
So I’m excited about the fact that I’m mentoring three young filmmakers as part of this collective. I’m already interested in potentially making featured versions or similar versions of these filmmakers’ next feature films, and we might see an 18-year-old kid come out of this collective and make a movie that really blows up next year. I really like that the technology and the platforms have equalized things so that the more important thing that is emerging now is uniqueness, individuality and that spark of your voice. And that’s kind of the fun thing about being part of this collective is we get to usher that forward not only at a place like TIFF but even beyond that.
“We might see an 18-year-old kid make a movie that really blows up next year.”
Also, the three filmmakers that you chose, they seem to have very diverse backgrounds, which is really cool too, to give some people who might not otherwise get the chance to show their stuff.
You know, diversity in filmmaking is important right now and that’s always somewhat a part of the decision, but the truth is these were the three most interesting projects to all of us and they were chosen on their own merit as well, so it’s always a tricky balance when you’re dealing with that stuff.
Are any of them so talented that you are almost jealous of them, or you’re like worried that they are going to take some position from you in a couple years?
I killed one them this morning. But otherwise, the other two, I got them. So we are fine. In all seriousness, as the producer-mentor, you do get yourself in situations where you’re like “this person is a lot better at this part of the job than I am” and it can be a little weird. But ultimately, it’s what you want. It’s what you do this for because it’s not a purely altruistic thing. It’s not like, “Ooh, I’m just here to help.” I want to be engaged. I want to learn from them too. That’s part of the process.
Note: To hear an audio version of this interview—as well as Duplass answering Stellan Skarsgard movie trivia—check out the Made Man Podcast Episode #6 here.
All photos: Getty